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Why did you choose to study Mechanical Engineering?

How's a day in the life of a mechanical engineer? Do your co-workers support you? Do you need good leadership skills? What are the benefits/achievements you can earn?

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Ray’s Answer

That is a lot of questions in one, so I will do my best to answer one in turn.

Why did you choose to study Mechanical Engineering?
I honestly chose engineering because I was pushed in that direction by teachers and counselors since I was good at Math and Science. The local university by me had an engineering program and had built earthquake research center which also appealed to me as something to study, so I enrolled as a civil engineer. During my the first two years of university, you take mostly the fundamental classes which apply to all disciplines, one of those classes was thermodynamics, and that class opened a door for me. I really enjoyed the topic and applications and as a result changed my major from Civil to mechanical. Amusingly, what I do now has very little to do with thermodynamics, but that was what put me on the path to where I am today.

How's a day in the life of a mechanical engineer?
This is going to vary greatly depending on what field within mechanical engineering you end up working in and can even vary from position to position. I work in the maintenance and reliability fields and there is really no typical day. Some days are relaxed working in the office on the computer writing procedures or reports or doing data analysis and some are out in the field troubleshooting equipment, training technicians or working with other engineers on various projects. I will say this, the boring days are few and far between and there can be a lot of days that are high pressure/stressful.

Do your co-workers support you?
Again this is really going to depend on what you are doing and where you work. As a Maintenance and/or Reliability engineer, many of the positions I have held, I have been the only person in my position at the site, or even in the entire company, which means that there can be support but there can also be a lot of opposition to the changes that a role like mine is trying to roll out. However I have also worked in places with amazing teams who were supportive in and outside of work.

Do you need good leadership skills?
If you want to succeed, yes. A lot of engineering is championing change and to do that you need to be a leader. As you move up in your career you will learn that being a good leader is really important if you want to move up the chain of command and lead teams or become a supervisor/manager.

What are the benefits/achievements you can earn?
I make a good living. Not sure what otehr benefits/achievement you are thinking about for this question.
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Glenn’s Answer

All good questions. I will try to answer you in enough detail.

I was not aware of engineering as a real option as a career choice until my mother suggested this. She was an admin at a university that had this degree program. I was good at math and physical science and the degree aligned with my aptitude. As I looked into what an engineer did, it seemed like a good fit for me. I never considered any other degree program other than ME because of my natural mechanical aptitude.

I do product development. There is not day in the life. Every phase of the project has its own tasks and challenges. We work on a phase gate system that takes from Proof of concept, to early design, through multiple pilot builds, and production validation.

Leadership skills are important with most careers. If you have good leadership, you will be able to advance your career both on a technical path and a management path of you prefer.

Benefits and achievements are in your own eyes. Kind of like your own definition of success. Some companies have great benefits including stock rewards, some offer great retirement plans. You can always get your name on patents. Others give you recognition and appreciation of managements and peers.
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Guido’s Answer

The day of a mechanical engineer is generally spent carefully solving problems. Those issues can include designing components in CAD, performing computer simulations for stress analysis, researching and selecting suitable components from outside vendors, overseeing/reviewing test reports, meeting to review the feasibility/maturity of a design or the timeline of a project, and presenting to customers/stakeholders. The specifics of this greatly depend on the industry you are in (e.g. a startup that is making a robotic toy will move a lot quicker and less rigorously than an aerospace company building a component for a manned spaceflight vehicle).

The type of people who seek out engineering disciplines, and then succeed at becoming an engineer, tend to be intelligent, thoughtful, and emotionally stable. I phrase it that way, because the question of "Do your co-workers support you?" sounds very much like an emotional one, and I don't find that engineers are having nearly the same kind of emotional/stress problems that face other occupations, populated by more emotional personality types. Teams of engineers have to work together to solve complex problems, and each person contributes to those solutions. There isn't much drama or competition, and engineers are typically salaried positions that don't have competition-based pay.

Leadership skills are always useful, but junior engineers really aren't expected to come in having many skills, technical or leadership wise. It will typically be a few (to several) years after college before an engineer has an opportunity to lead others. Engineering is a technical profession, many of the personality types who naturally excel at it seem to have very few leadership skills and little interest in it, and many (most?) engineers will go their whole career without ever meaningfully leading people. There are often career advancement paths (with increasing pay) that move you into further and further specialized Subject Matter Expert (SME) roles, with few leadership responsibilities, other than to review the work of junior engineers. All that said, if you desire to lead people, there are project manager and functional manager (people manager) roles, to move up through. (Look up Putt's Law.)

Most engineers tend to be "learners" (skill collectors?), and are continually growing their competencies and specializations. They often take great pride in their technical accomplishments, as compared to other fields where notoriety/competitiveness is more prevalent. In the engineering world, achievement is often marked by training certificates, technical certifications (e.g. Six Sigma Black Belt, CSWP, PMP, etc.), patents, and awards/bonuses for project successes or ingenious contributions. There are no equivalents to the "salesman of the quarter", that I'm aware of, but ask an engineer about a problem they solved and they will light up and talk to you for hours about the clever widget they designed.
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